By Jan Landau Lewin
Some arrived in running shoes. Some used canes, walkers, wheelchairs. One or two carried oxygen tanks.
Nothing stopped the 350 or so people who came from all over the Southeast -– some from as far away as Florida — on July 25 to the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta to reminisce and celebrate the good old days of the Jewish Educational Alliance, which is marking 100 years of building Jewish community in metro Atlanta.
The Jewish Educational Alliance was the precursor to the three multi-program, multi-site Jewish community centers and camps now located throughout the metro Atlanta area.
“If it hadn’t been for the alliance, I would have been a juvenile delinquent,” said 79-year-old Buckhead resident Archie Mullins, chairman of the Alliance Reunion Committee, which planned the celebration. “I joined the boxing team at the alliance in the ‘40s and stayed a member my whole life.“
The Jewish Educational Alliance was started in 1910 in a two-story brick building downtown on Capitol Avenue, which was then the heart of the immigrant Jewish community. As the Jewish population grew and expanded north, the Alliance moved, too. In the early 1950s, it operated from an old two-story wooden house at 1745 Peachtree Road in Buckhead and became known as the Jewish Community Center.
In 1998, the center moved to Dunwoody, where more than 100 athletic, cultural and social programs are offered to infants, children, teens, adults and seniors. The programs include Camp Barney Medintz, an overnight camp in Cleveland, Ga.; and a second center at Shirley Blumenthal Park in Marietta.
Dunwoody resident Asher Benator, 79, joined the alliance in 1946 to box. That year, he fought for the alliance team in a Golden Gloves national competition. He and his teammates — his brother Max, Archie Mullins and Gene Asher — were the first on the alliance’s Amateur Boxing Group team, which was for boys under 105 lbs, to fight for the alliance in the Golden Gloves.
“The alliance is the first place that the Sephardic Jews (originally from southern Europe and the Mediterranean) socialized with the Ashkenazi, or Jews from northern Europe,” Benator said. ”Today no one even thinks about those sorts of things.”
“The alliance was the place we experienced community,” said Benator. “It got us off the streets and gave us a place to play sports and to socialize, which is what the Atlanta Jewish Community Center offers our grandchildren today.”
“It got us off the streets and gave us a place to play sports and to socialize, which is what the Atlanta Jewish Community Center offers our grandchildren today.– Asher Benator
Benator’s children, Michelle Rich and Michael Benator, with children of their own today, also enjoyed the services of the Jewish Community Center. They participated in youth groups, summer camps and other programs over the years. And today their children, the third generation, enjoy those same programs in Atlanta, according to Benator.
Mullins’ daughter, Dara Merlin, 36, also stayed part of the Jewish Community Center. She was the commissioner of the Women’s Basketball League at the center and participated in other programs as well.
“There is no question that the Alliance helped us back then to have deeper and more connected roots in the Jewish community,” Merlin said. “Who knows what would have happened to that community back then without it?”